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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ithaca College & Cornell University Graduation Dinners

The month of May is a busy one for all the restaurants in the Ithaca area. It is a month that is looked forward to with high expectations and some trepidation. It's a profitable time, but not without stress. The transition from a sleepy Ithaca winter slow season to the busiest month of year is more than a little challenging. Hiring & training new staff, ordering extra dishes and silverware, developing new spring menu offerings, servicing equipment, email confirming hundreds of reservations, ordering enough produce & beef...not that we are complaining. We love to be busy. Busy is good. Busy, busy, busy. Staff wise, the seasoned veterans help out the newbies and management plugs away at their endless list of tasks to be completed before kick off.
Mother's Day is the kick off for the month of May restaurant super bowl. Hundreds of friends & neighbors bring Mom out for dinner. Everyone in the restaurant seems to know each other; it feels like home. Then the last two weekends of May are dedicated to our college graduations. The locals seem to get squeezed out by thousands of families from all over world visiting the heart of the Finger Lakes, Ithaca, NY, to see their loved ones graduate from Ithaca College or Cornell University.
The scale of a graduation weekend is awe inspiring- we reserve all of our overnight guests rooms at the Inn two years in advance (guaranteed by a deposit). The dinners are reserved from January of that year until a week or two prior when there isn't a single seat left to be had (again all seats guaranteed by a deposit). This past weekend we served over 620 dinners- that's 120 pounds of prime rib, 40 pounds of Filet Mignon, 120 pounds of haddock, 50 pounds of carrots, 40 pounds of mushrooms, 600 desserts... you get the idea. That's a lot of business for a little place like Rogues' Harbor Inn with 9 overnight guest rooms in the bed and breakfast and a 90 seat restaurant with 30 staff members.
The entire staff  is working; no rest for the weary till the weekends are behind us. Every chef is on duty- ordering, prepping, chopping, roasting, organizing, plating from mid morning till late in the evening. Every server and bartender is scheduled to set up, greet, seat, serve and repeat... We answer the phone in shifts because it rings endlessly. I even had to head out Sunday morning to Maine's Source for more provisions. I noticed several other restaurateurs there loading up as well. Competition was stiff, but a man is no match for a woman with a cart in a shopping survival scenario. I prevailed and returned safely to the Inn with cases of strawberries, all the mushrooms that existed in Ithaca and 100 pounds of potatoes.
Busy is good, but it takes it's toll. We are grateful for the business and we are now ready for a rest. Towards the end of dinner service Sunday night Jerry, a veteran server, and I were standing side by side quietly observing the well ordered chaos surrounding us. He said, "Well, it's almost over for this year,"  I replied, "It's not over till the fat lady sings." Jerry whispered back without the slightest smirk, "She doesn't need all that make up, just get her out there."
Well said Jerry, well said...till next year.